A group of three women stole thousands of dollars on 13 August from the Buddhist Institute of Universal Compassion, a Tibetan Buddhist temple in Spokane, Washington.
The authorities believe that the women might be part of a crime ring that specifically targets Buddhist temples. Last year, the alleged crime ring stole US$30,000 from the Buddhist Institute of Universal Compassion. On this occasion, it has been estimated that the thieves escaped with US$6,000 in cash and gold.
Malia Etheredge, who serves as the temple’s communication coordinator and has been a member of the community for almost 10 years, described the robbery as “a big loss” for the community. (KHQ)
According to local media reports, the three women surveyed the temple property a day before the robbery, walking around the perimeter and looking inside the grounds. Two of the women then returned to the temple on 13 August, requesting prayers from the resident monk, Geshe Phelgye. When the monk entered the temple building to perform the prayer ceremony, a third women entered the temple grounds and attempted gain access to the onsite residence where the money was kept. She was unsuccessful because the resident monk had locked the door before leaving. However, the thieves returned later that day after Geshe Phelgye had left to take a walk.
“It’s heartbreaking to be targeted. How do we protect ourselves moving forward? I don’t know.” Etheredge said of the theft. “Fear is present now inside the temple, and the worry of finances, that’s there too. But, there is always peace, a few thieves can’t rob the Buddhists of that.” (KHQ)
It is traditional in Buddhism for lay practitioners to ask monastics for prayers, and to offer gifts and donations in exchange in order to support the temple. The thieves took advantage of this tradition in committing their crime, wearing medical masks and head scarves to conceal their identities.
“This practice is not about the money. It never has been. However, finances are even tighter now following this weekend’s events,” Ethredge observed. “As a Buddhist community, while we aren’t violent, we are very wise and we will catch them. I have intentions on notifying as many temples as I can.” (KHQ)
Ethredge also expressed concern about her teacher’s safety, and for the safety of everyone who practices at the temple.
The theft has created additional problems for the Buddhist Institute of Universal Compassion. The stolen money was intended to fund the purchase of a new heating/cooling system for the temple, whose mission is “to promote peace and compassion for all beings, same as we desire for ourselves.” (Facebook)
The Buddhist Institute of Universal Compassion held a yard sale on 18–19 August in an attempt to recoup some of the lost funds, and has set up a GoFundMe page to receive donations. For in-person visits, the temple is located at 728 E Rich Avenue Spokane, Washington 99207.
Universal Compassion Foundation
Buddhist Institute of Universal Compassion (Facebook)
Help Buddhist Institute Recover from Robbery (GoFundMe)
‘It’s a big loss’: A Spokane Buddhist Temple is short thousands of dollars after being robbed Sunday (KHQ)
Local Buddhist Temple Robbed of Cash and Gold (Favs News)
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